When you bury someone from abroad

funeral flowersAn article by Nora Fakim in the Guardian newspaper a few days back carried an article as  ‘Why Africans in the UK pay so much to send relatives’ bodies home’ – “home” defined as being in a given country on the African continent.
This article struck a chord primarily because I happen to be of African ancestry/origin and have experienced some of what was raised in the article. I also believe I stand to experience more if not similar occurrences of these in the coming future of my residence outside of Africa.  After witnessing the often distressing scenarios where relatives back home have sold off ancestral burial grounds or constantly make financial demands towards various funeral rites, most persons I’ve come across have all but resigned themselves to being cremated or buried here in the UK.
My first experience of having to deal with returning a deceased relative back home was in 2008. My paternal aunt and adoptive mother had passed away after years of residing out of Uganda for over 30years. Without a written Will stipulating what she wanted, it fell on me and my siblings in the UK to ascertain from her religious affiliates what she would have wanted done pertaining to her burial, alongside that of our elders and her living siblings back in Uganda. Her religious affiliates were very clear, she didn’t mind her body being cremated and ashes scattered in a chosen garden or her remains returned to her ancestral home.
We opted to go with the latter given the insistence of our father, who was the brother to the deceased. However in so doing, the financial aspect of organising for all this fell upon us here in the UK. Fortunately, my adoptive mother had life insurance and honest religious affiliates in the likes who assisted us in overseeing all that was necessary to get her remains returned to Uganda without the need to seek or mobilise fundraising requests from the Ugandan community in the diaspora etc.

 

The one aspect I find contradictory to the argument for returning our deceased to the African continent irrespective of whichever genesis of reasoning comes down to economics which more often than not, falls on those in the diaspora to fund-raise. Namely, the cost of returning the remains of the deceased, the burial costs and the maintenance of the grave. Most often, all this is expected to be undertaken by the person(s) in the diaspora.

There are factors that need to be weighed by all. Those in the diaspora need to hold frank conversations amongst themselves, companions, relatives or families; over what they would want to see take place in case of their deaths. Persons need to be proactive in setting a plan of action that is transparent instead of opting to push their Will in a shroud of secrecy or cultural/religious dogma. There’s often a taboo about discussing their Will I’ve found when the subject has been raised.

There is no one rule fits all. Options need to be explored by diasporans especially if they’ve been in paid legal employ during their years of residence abroad.

The options to look into; 1.) Life insurance: – that can help towards returning a deceased back home and which persons can pay a regular contribution towards in the course of their residence in the UK.

2.) The cost of a plot of burial in the UK which can range from anything like £3,000.  Such information is readily accessible with such co-operatives like http://www.co-operativefuneralcare.co.uk/arranging-a-funeral/immediate-concerns/paying-for-a-funeral/?gclid=Cj0KEQiAno60BRDt89rAh7qt-4wBEiQASes2tRl6uJDOtL8nP9JEPF45mabvc29O4Hd-dXhhmVcv-cgaAgPj8P8HAQ

Cancer: Prevention is often the safest and cheapest option…

Cancer these days has become synonymous with grief akin to that felt with the impacts of wars witnessed all around the globe.  Irrespective of what type of cancer, the impact on those directly affected remains that of both physical and psychological pain.

Like the HIV scourge of the late 80’s, Uganda is now seeing an increase in cases of cancer-related deaths. Given my visits to Uganda are often related to set personal projects, it hasn’t been possible for me to gauge data as to exactly why this increase is manifesting now.  All that I can say is that the diagnostics are readily available in most cases.  However, access to treatment and appropriate diet required following commencement of therapy in those that seek diagnostics, can be compounded due to lack of funds.

In some cases I’ve witnessed, persons will present with advanced symptoms of cancer after having first tried out local herbs from alternative persons passing themselves off as herbalists or medical doctors. In other cases, they’d have been under a misapprehension that they were being bewitched and thus sought help from spiritualists/religious pastors or witchdoctors.  The end results being, that without early and concise diagnosis along with appropriate management, the disease matured such that by presentation to a major hospital, the patient is already weak and with compromised organs; and often without sufficient funds for the medication or diet required to stabilise let alone treat them.

What I do know and believe in is that preventive measures need to be taken. Interpersonal communication will definitely be an effective measure. I also feel awareness programmes regarding the symptoms of women who are at risk on different levels could be of great help.  This is where  mass communication media  comes in to enable and facilitate  the relevant awareness levels regarding such diseases. I focus on breast cancer, but there are plenty of chronic diseases that fall under this umbrella that can be prevented or managed at a primary level of direct community and or public engagement.

For my part, I’m kicking this off with breast cancer awareness and prevention.

Women who have menstruated early, with late or no pregnancies, late menopause, who have not breastfed their babies, are particularly at risk. However, please note that whilst most breast cancer is reported in women due to societal attention to the reproductive role of women, breast cancer does occur in men too. If there is a family history of cancer – your mother, sister, maternal aunt (Mother’s sister) or maternal grandmother (Mother’s Mother) – please treat it as an early warning sign.

 
• Learn and practice breast self-examination, and have mammograms as recommended by your gynaecologist.
• Evaluate diet, too much of fat in your diet is a certain culprit. Keep sugar* intake to a minimum – even honey. Selenium found in the soft bones of the fish, as well as whole grain food sources, protect against breast cancer.
• Exercise on regular basis.

*Data found to support  other findings that impaired glucose metabolism may play a role in pancreatic cancer etiology. A diet high in glycemic load may increase the risk of pancreatic cancer in women who already have an underlying degree of insulin resistance.

Are you Affirming Your Black Child In These Five Ways?

The desired change has to take root from within ourselves.

MILESTALES

I hear the same stories from parents of black children day after day. Their daughters are

expressing the desire to have hair like long straight-haired April in their kindergarten class. These

same girls are fawning over the white skin and long flowing hair on Barbie or Elsa from Frozen.

Boys who look like young Gary Coleman are asking why they don’t look like and have hair like

Jake from from Jake and the Neverland Pirates or Justin from Justin Time. The parents that I

speak to tell me that that they try their best to affirm their children with compliments on their

appearance, but their children are still interested in looking like someone else or being someone

else. I think that teaching our children to love and embrace themselves, their skin, hair, unique

personality, etc. is THE most important lesson to teach. Please watch my

TEDx talk on this…

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Not for the love of water alone

John Legend heads under water

It appears to cost nothing to pause…and breathe. Yet it can be the most challenging action for most of us to take especially in times of emotional and physical conflict.  The pausing to breathe I am talking about isn’t that experienced by an asthmatic or anyone with compromised breathing. It is the breathing of a being not compromised, be that human or not.

Pausing, gives one time to re-align themselves and focus on what is truly the most pressing or urgent priority to the given situation they find themselves in. Not only does breathing provide your body with necessary oxygen, but it also rids the body of waste like carbon dioxide.   When conflict threatens to invade our space, our ability to protect ourselves often becomes at odds with our ability to remember to breathe properly.  What often ensue are harsh words or actions to deflect any perceived threat.

Not long back now my mother’s habit over water came to make sense.  Whilst most of us reach for our mobile phones as escorts to everywhere we go, for my mother a full bottle of water has been her companion.  She will make sure her drinking water bottle is filled up at every given opportunity irrespective of seasons of the year.

A water bottle - mum's constant companion

A water bottle – mum’s modern ‘gourd’

Initially it concerned me, thinking she might have an underlying medical condition that made her feel thirsty so I took to running all sorts of tests to rule out everything and anything my inquisitive mind could think of until I was satisfied there was nothing to remain concerned about medically.  I just accepted she loved her water. At least that was what I thought until realisation set in.

calabash/gourd

A small version of this gourd/calabash was used not only for water but sometimes local brew

How I came to finding out why this habit of carrying a water bottle had become such a defining factor to my mother’s way of living was actually by accident whilst listening to a song Buladina by a well-known Kadongo kamu artist – Paul Kafeero.  Now in this song among much advice, the father advises his daughter on how to avoid being quarrelsome or how to remain calm by way of sipping on water which she should always keep in a small gourd (ensumbi y’amazzi) by her side.

This song along with having observed my mother’s relationship with her ‘drinking-water bottle companion’ is what brought me to the realisation of the benefits of remembering to breathe so as to avoid not only physical and emotional conflict, but to stay healthy.

Taking a sip of water aids in forcing me physically to pause and breathe…whereby I avoid saying or carrying out impulsive actions in a reactionary fit.

Being thankful…even in times of challenges

Nature-Holiday-Uganda-Murchison-FallsI’ve been living in a sort of chaotic haze the last couple of weeks.  Becoming a grandparent of two by my two daughters in a space of four days had left me in sort of a suspended limbo operating on auto-pilot going from one emergency to the next. It sort of brought back memories of my nursing days in trauma care. The beautiful blessing that they are, has only unraveled as the haze clears.  Challenging and difficult as this new phase of my life is, I am very thankful.

Only a couple of hours ago, I learnt of the death of young Elizabeth Nyanzi in the prime of her years – almost similar in age to my eldest daughter. I cannot even begin to imagine the emotions the parents are going through right now.  I never knew the family personally, but I was very close friends with the cousin to the family.  I pray for them all…

It is ironic that the topic of death seems to intertwine with life at almost every turn.  My father was reported to have died on the 4th of July.  I say this because as with most information about my father, one cannot be too certain of what is fact and for peace of mind one learns to accept whatever is said.

His death had not come as a surprise.  It was inevitable when one takes in to account the complexities involved.  What was surprising was the animosity of his co-wife in holding all of us (by this I mean my siblings and extended paternal family members) to financial ransom initially at  £5,000 refusing to release our late father’s body for burial and threats of killing any who dared intervene with her plans. Ironically she had not been so vocal against us when a month prior to dad’s death she had accepted our financial assistance to get dad admitted for medical intervention.   She pulled this off whilst parading armed guards and some other female claiming to be working in the President’s office and a royal princess who now miraculously claims to be a relative of ours! One really wonders how each and every domestic issue nowadays in Uganda somehow ends up involving the President or some chief judge officials.

For someone (co-wife) who claimed to be so much concerned about dad’s health, keeping him at home even when his deteriorated physical appearance alone dictated otherwise, seemed her only plan.  It had only been on the off-chance of us requesting one of our nephews to go check on dad that we learnt of his condition. Intriguing that with older siblings and children on ground in Uganda, she hadn’t felt it necessary to inform anyone of dad’s condition.

The chosen family

The chosen family

After two weeks had passed upon dad dying, possibly when the co-wife and this “newfound grand-daughter princess, Bwanga Flavia Namirembe” plans of getting as much cash from the Ugandan President had come to fruition did they declare the funeral of our father.  Interestingly these two persons saw fit not only to use the death of my siblings that had once served in the NRMO army under the current President as leverage for a ‘cash pay-out’, but also to return the body to grounds that are kept and looked after by the very persons they had initially excluded from all funeral processions.  The fact of using my deceased brothers is my main bone of contention.

We (my siblings) have been handling and burying all of our loved ones including one of the brothers (Capt. David Kato – RIP) used in this leverage without so much as a penny from the President or State in past funerals. So burying our father didn’t require us knocking on the President’s door for financial support unless of course those involved had their own ulterior motives.

My mother who now resides in UK went through a lot of during her course of marriage to our father but fortunately she is not a bitter person by nature and is far well-brought up to lower herself to such.  These two women using mum’s dead sons as leverage for material gain without so much acknowledging her role pissed me off big time. To add insult to injury is their continued death threats to her remaining children in Uganda.

Uganda is a very interesting country where persons can fraudulently fabricate and photoshop themselves on to families that they have no blood kinship – and this appears to be sanctioned by persons from even high up in her judiciary and governance.  It is indeed the case that ghost employees don’t stop in government offices or rigging, but in many areas of Ugandan life.

I am thankful that after such a tumultuous month of July that saw us bidding our father his final farewell; my two daughters have given birth to sons who could almost pass for twins – whereby the re-birth that were my dad and the twin brother I never knew. In this new phase, I appreciate and embrace the new beginning.  In the ruins, there’s always gems.

I hope you are at peace dad – I wished you well in all.

Politics…

gumybears and unicornsThis word politics conjures up a variety of emotions and reactions from us all mostly guided from past and present experience and perceptions with persons, rules or laws you have interacted with. On the whole, it will boil down to where you are geographically on planet earth and your exposure to the workings of us humans.

For instance you give an opinion over something in governance in some countries in Africa – and immediately you are perceived by most to be an aspiring politician! At worst you are seen as a threat to the sitting president, MP or local council official, who in turn will try and find a way of eliminating you – even say you are a terrorist for daring to mess with the order of play! This word politics is not easy my friend.

The word politics in itself is quite varied and can have a variety of meanings to differing persons.  Some, including myself, might define politics to simply being a combination of many little lies of coercion, with the aim of manipulating to attain a given aim or goal

However, I will go with this definition if only to keep those waiting in the wings to sign me off to the loony bin: Politics, in the broadest sense, is the activity through which people make, preserve and amend the general rules under which they live. Mansoor Maitah

However. As with everything in life, nothing is as ever black or white. Grey areas exist and you are probably wondering what politics has got to do with my ramblings today.  Those concerned I’m about to rant on about the main political parties here in the UK, relax!! Far from it. Those guys have their own platforms and media to put anyone attempting such a fit to shame.

You see the other day I was sharing a coffee with a colleague. She had been threatening to leave her present employ for quite some months now as she felt unsupported by those managing her. This time around she was voicing the same sentiments. She had requested to be paid in money her annual leave that she didn’t want to take but been denied this by her line manager. (In effect she was seeking to be paid double for the period she worked during what should have been her annual leave). In return she’d escalated this up to the next Manager who it soon became clear wasn’t going to back down from the decision made by the first manager.  Now my colleague’s annoyance over being denied her request was compounded by two major issues she voiced that struck a chord in me.

  1. She thought the line manager was way younger than her and as such felt he was ill-placed to be telling her she had to use up her annual leave or lose it.
  2. The previous line manager had allowed my colleague this request the past year – so she felt she had a right to it.

The first issue resonated with me because once upon a time in my mid 20’s, I’d risen up the ranks of managing persons who were older than me. My age and the speed my promotion had come at seemed to irk plenty of my older colleagues and they often showed their “discomfort” over this in how they opted to refuse to carry out tasks asked of them – even when I gave them full professional respect when engaging them to do so. It wasn’t long before I started seeing the camaraderie which once was when I had just started with them disappear and in place, often undisguised dislike.  For some it was my position, others it was my race, but mostly it was my age that seemed to attract so much conflict.

The second issue made me recall the sort of working relationships employees and employers weave – a sort of ‘I’ll scratch your back, if you scratch mine’ whereby it is not written anywhere but is at the discretion of those directly involved. Now discretionary acts I have often found add human elements when assessing and dealing with fellow beings. However as with gentleman’s agreements, it calls for the ones exercising discretion to be on a similar wave length. If you have a manager with whom your personalities clash or who is unable to exercise professionalism over work matters, getting a discretionary ruling on anything might be stretching it too far.

Over time in various employs ranging from nursing right through to medical secretarial then management, I’d learnt that there was always a form of politics with fellow colleagues which one had to keep in mind that didn’t get written into job descriptions. I also learned to respect positions of all personnel be them under my management or above – they simply were doing roles they were employed to do for the betterment of the whole company or institution. Office politics are usually to do with persons vying to protect their space/job in a given employ and some will go to varying lengths in acts to do that.  The trick is being able to decipher how persons play or get played.

So now when I have young students or managers coming with all the confidence of a young spirit, I simply appreciate that I still have some role in the bigger frame of their dreams. I don’t see them as competitors but merely as young trees to carry forth the baton.  Where needed or asked, I will offer my thoughts/input. I respect their zeal and youth and hope that they in return do same for my seniority of the knowledge archived.

Dying to cook something to eat

17th edition split load consumer unitYesterday I almost got electrocuted by a beside lamp I had just relocated from another room in to my freshly painted and furbished bedroom.  The crystal candles had passed the induction, now I wanted to have the warm ambiance of the bedside mushroom lamp to meditate as I whirled away the aches of the weekend DIY.  Fortunately the installed circuit breaker is quite efficient. The sparks and noise before the supply cut out was all that told me something wasn’t quite right. Thing is, even as I made to reset the circuit breaker and returned to remove the plug from the socket; a repeat of the cut out played out. Which again seemed odd.

I put the whole lamp out of the way and waited for the morning when I could get a clear look at the plug and lamp.

Thing is, this business of electricity in my home has been treating me to quite a few strange happenings.  About 3 weeks back I kept getting electrocuted in the bathroom, especially whilst using the shower or touching the window pane to use anything on it or place anything on it. I worked out it was because the string to the fan extractor had broken a while back while the extractor was still on. I’d not thought anything of it and instead just switched it off from the mains outside the bathroom until I could get an electrician out to repair the broken string. Given we planned to do some DIY around the whole house, I’d hoped to do this when I got to doing the bathroom..  But this episodes of electric shocks made me call in an appointment sooner.

However, I figured out it was because of condensation building up in the extractor fan when it wasn’t switched on that was causing the electric shocks to occur – especially as the fan was on the same side as the window of the bathroom.  So that mystery was solved – no more electric shocks whilst showering.

Then the fluorescent tube light in the kitchen decided it’d had enough and needed to rest in peace! Getting a replacement has proved to be something of an obstacle challenge though and I was getting quite adept at cooking by candle light until a trip to Halfords got me a lantern.  The lantern is cranky though. It charges on speed-dial and after 5mins it requests to lie down and recharge. If anything, I’ve become very adept at cooking 5 minute meals on the gas hob.

Antique_and_Vintage_Table_Lamps

I return back to the lamp in my bedroom of which I hold quite fond memories as it was one of the items of my late aunt Margaret. My partner took the plug aside after he had patiently listened to my near-miss at burning the house down.  When he opened the plug, he pointed to where the fault was..

Somewhere somehow in the lamp’s history, someone had installed a copper wire on the fuse to act as a fuse. Please don’t ask me why as I’m as baffled as to why one would do this given the cost of fuses is not that much or expensive. I asked my partner why anybody would do something so dangerously risky especially as this lamp was previously owned by an elderly person?!  Surely this could have caused a fire if the place the lamp was in didn’t have a circuit breaker etc to pick up the fault.

The discovery of this copper wire being used as a bridge for a fuse in a plug led to conversations of fires in school dormitories in Uganda.  Stories of how students, due to hunger, would resort to makeshift heating devices such as using mattress spring rods, wires, bypassing fuses of the mains, to avail them cooking devices to heat or cook all sorts. The stories of using makeshift devices with hindsight are quite incredulous though at the time, these were normal occurrences among students who literally were dying to cook something to eat by any means feasible to them.

Sadly I suspect, it is most certainly such makeshift cooking devices using electricity in school dormitories that could explain the tragic and fatal fires that resulted in so many students losing their lives and not necessary a result of criminal arson as is always thought.

As I get more joy doing DIY around my home, I am becoming all the more aware and appreciative of the importance of having a circuit breaker in the home.  Knowing the pattern of your home’s wiring circuits and how your electrical service panel is organized can be a big help when a circuit breaker trips ..Perhaps if this critical area of planning for a building was given attention, a lot of students lives would have been saved

.electrical_circuit_mapping